Urban Shelter Project


Urban Shelter Project

Mismatches Functional adequacy Vulnerable groups New family structures
Urban Design Urban fabrics Environments Inclusion Equity
Promotion and production Public promotion Participatory processes

Main objectives of the project

The project works with Jordanian owners to refurbish uninhabitable properties to create homes. These are leased to Syrian refugees, rent-free for 18 months.  Funds are used to subsidy the refurbishments, which has a positive impact on the local economy by increasing the availability of housing and providing jobs, which helps to reduce conflicts between refugees and local people. To date, over 5,000 housing units have been improved, providing housing for over 18,000 refugees and creating over 20,000 short term employment opportunities.

The project works with Jordanian owners to refurbish uninhabitable properties to create homes. These are leased to Syrian refugees, rent-free for 18 months.  Funds are used to subsidy the refurbishments, which has a positive impact on the local economy by increasing the availability of housing and providing jobs, which helps to reduce conflicts between refugees and local people. To date, over 5,000 housing units have been improved, providing housing for over 18,000 refugees and creating over 20,000 short term employment opportunities.


  • 2016:


  • Promotor: World Habitat


Country/Region: Jordan


The Urban Shelter Project creates new housing units in Jordan for Syrian refugees to live in rent-free for 18 months. The project works with local property-owners whose properties are uninhabitable because they are unfinished or incomplete. The Norwegian Refugee Council provides funding to bring the properties up to acceptable standards. The refurbished homes are leased by the owner to a refugee family, rent-free for 18 months.

Norwegian Refugee Council also provides legal assistance services to Syrian refugees in regard to their rights and access to legal and civil documentation, refugee registration procedures and housing, land and property rights (including evictions, and landlord/tenant disputes).

To date, the project has:

  • Created 5,100 units benefitting 1,106 landlords.
  • Provided 18,127 refugees with shelter, 83% of whom are women or children.
  • Created 20,400 short term employment opportunities in northern Jordan, where, in the city of Irbid, the unemployment rate is the second-highest in the country at 21%.
  • Re-vitalised local economies by investing USD $10 million locally.

The project is ongoing and is continuing to fundraise to renovate additional properties.

Aims and Objectives

The main objectives of the project are:

  • to ensure that Syrian refugees can access suitable shelter;
  • to ensure the protection of vulnerable people;
  • to ensure that refugees know their rights and can voice those rights.

The high number of refugees in host communities is putting increased pressure on the local housing and labour market. This is a key source of tension between Syrian refugees and Jordanians. An estimated 20% of Syrian refugees living in host communities do not have rental contracts, which means that they are at constant risk of being evicted. This lack of security of tenure impacts on their ability to stay registered with refugee and Jordanian authorities, which is necessary in order for them to access humanitarian and state-provided services. This project therefore aims to:

  • Provide a secure, adequate and affordable shelter to vulnerable [1] Syrian refugees in out-of-camp areas of Jordan.
  • Limit the increases in rent prices at a local level by increasing the number of housing units.
  • Invest in the local economy, directly through conditional cash grants to Jordanian landlords and indirectly by creating income generation opportunities for skilled and unskilled labourers in the construction sector.

[1] Vulnerability criteria are used to assess those who would benefit the most from the intervention – single parents, single mothers, families, people with disabilities, people with a large number of young children. Preferential treatment is offered to these groups.


Northern Jordan has experienced an enormous influx of refugees fleeing from the war in Syria. More than 635,000 have been registered by the United Nations since the war began in 2011. Whilst several large refugee camps have been built, 82% of Syrian refugees live outside the camps, mainly in cities and towns in the north of Jordan. This has created a significant additional demand and competition for housing, the impacts of this are felt not just by the refugees, but by Jordanians who have seen increases in housing costs.  As the conflict enters its fifth year the vulnerability of refugees increases as their ability to pay for services including housing decreases.

Eighty-six per cent of Syrian refugees are now living below the Jordanian poverty line. According to the UNHCR Vulnerability Assessment Framework Baseline Survey, 50% of the Syrian refugees outside camps are highly vulnerable from a housing point of view. Many Syrian refugees in Jordan are unable to secure adequate shelter for their families. One in five Syrian refugee households live in shelter which cannot offer them basic protection from the elements and may have leaking roofs or plastic sheets in place of windows. Almost half of all accommodation rented by Syrian refugees is also visibly affected by mould and moisture which has a negative impact on family health.

The latest nationwide statistics show that the main sources of income for Syrian refugee households are:

  1. Food assistance (25%);
  2. Income from unskilled labour (23%);
  3. Borrowing money (19%);
  4. Income from skilled labour (10%).

Some 23% of the refugee households assessed live in accommodation where kitchens and bathrooms do not meet minimum standards. In addition, the large refugee influx has significantly impacted on local rent prices, which have gone up by 13% compared to pre-crisis market prices.

The project strives to address the root of the housing crisis, contributing to an increase in the adequate housing stock in Jordan, as well as impacting on the local economy and social cohesion through the clear investment in the host community.  The project takes an integrated approach to the needs of refugees by first providing access to adequate shelter and then working to meet other housing needs, including security of tenure, providing conflict dispute resolution and giving support with documentation and legal assistance as required.

Key Features

Beneficiaries are selected by using the Vulnerability Assessment Framework Baseline Survey (using the VAF Welfare model 2015). Fifty per cent of the Syrian refugees outside the camps are highly shelter vulnerable. The majority of their monthly expenditure is spent on rent.

The Norwegian Refugee Council adopted various measures to ensure beneficiaries and local partners were involved and played an active, meaningful role in the programme:

  • Community Based Organisations and local authorities play a key role in disseminating information and referring potential property owners to the project;
  • Beneficiaries are offered but have the right to refuse a property if they have valid reasons not to live there; and
  • Syrian refugees have been involved in identifying the key vulnerability criteria used to assess people’s involvement in the project.Feedback from the people who are housed through the project is used to improve services and ensure accountability to beneficiaries. This information is collected through a variety of means such as surveys and one to one household interviews. Information, counselling and legal assistance work involves day to day listening and understanding the issues of Syrian refugees and trying to find real-time solutions to them. Landlords are included in this process and are also able to provide feedback and request assistance throughout the term of the lease. The project’s implementation is also coordinated with the local government through a Memorandum of Understanding with the relevant ministry in the Government of Jordan.

The activity involves upgrading existing housing units, including work to:

  • Improve durable protection from cold and wet weather and increase security and privacy. This includes adding permanent doors and windows; insulation (roof, doors and windows) and applying a base coat of plaster.
  • Inclusion of sources of renewable energy (solar thermal) and water conservation kits within the upgrading of properties.
  • Improve hygiene and access to water and sanitation facilities. This includes installing toilets, washing facilities; improving drainage; building new/expanding existing septic tanks; mending leakages in water supply; fixing drainage systems.
  • Improve connections to municipal infrastructure and services. This includes connection to water mains/installing water tanks; installing separate electricity meters.
  • Remove health and safety risks. This includes adding balustrades or barriers to stairs, balconies etc.; adding electrical earths, removing faulty wiring etc.; dismantling and removing any existing unwanted items and removing all debris.
  • Create separate sleeping areas to improve privacy and provide a warmer living area. This includes installing internal doors and lightweight partitions.
  • Ensure that people with disabilities can move around their home, use toilet facilities and enter/exit the home safely. This includes provision of equipment to ensure accessibility, and prioritise safety and dignity tailored to the specific needs of the individuals with disabilities.

The table below summarises the level of payments made to the landlords for upgrading their properties, based on the number of upgraded/livable housing units they can provide to refugees.

Number of Housing Units Investment limit (18 months’ rent free (Jordanian Dinars (JDs)) Minimum requirements
1 2,000 JDs (approximately USD $3,000)
  • Rent-free shelter for 18 months;
  • Security of tenure;
  • No evictions
2 3,000 JDs (approximately USD $4,000)
3 4,000 JDs (approximately USD $5,000)
4 5,000 JDs (approximately USD $6,000)

What impact has it had?

The Norwegian Refugee Council are not aware of any direct impacts on local or national policy as yet. However, the project has been successful in positively engaging the Government of Jordan at a local and national level to discuss the housing needs of refugees. This work has resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jordanian Government which had demonstrated the government’s buy-in to the project. One of the main components of the Memorandum of Understanding is the establishment of a steering committee comprised of representative of the various relevant ministries (Social Development, Municipalities, Planning and International Cooperation) along with the representatives from the local authorities of the areas targeted by the project. The steering committee positively influenced the project’s acceptance at national and local levels and provides a platform to ensure the sustainability of the project in the future.

The project has been able to protect and promote the rights to decent housing in a number of ways. Firstly, by directly increasing the supply of decent housing available to refugees. Secondly, the project has raised awareness of building codes with local contractors and has increased the expectation for compliance beyond the project’s own buildings. Thirdly, the project has been active in protecting refugees’ housing rights once they are in the new properties. Additionally, the Norwegian Refugee Council has been actively engaged with Jordan’s newly established Green Building Council advocating for environmental initiatives to be included.


How is it funded?

Five thousand, one hundred housing units have already been converted by the project using donations from the funders listed below. Future refurbishments are dependent on additional donor funding and further funding has been secured until September 2017.Costs are related to outputs – between 1,000 JDs (approximately USD $2,000) and 2,000 JDs (approximately USD $3,000) per housing unit – as well as operational costs including staffing, transportation and office rent and utilities.

The costs have been covered by direct funding from various donors including:

The scalability of the project is wholly dependent on funding. The Norwegian Refugee Council is actively fundraising to continue to further develop their work.

Why is it innovative?

Breaking with convention, the project sought to address multiple issues and not simply provide shelters for refugees. The project strives to address the root of the housing crisis, contributing towards an increase in the adequate housing stock in Jordan, as well as impacting on the local economy and social cohesion through a clear investment in the host community.

Investment into the local economy brings clear benefits in reducing conflict between refugees and local people. Supporting this initiative, the programme mapped the skilled labourers in different trades and locations and shared the contact list with the landlords, linking them to the labour market. This is also an example of supply chain innovation in the project and responded to a local need whereby there were insufficient labourers to respond to the construction programme.

In the context of the Jordanian rented housing sector, the provision of renewable energy (solar thermal) and water conservation kit is also innovative. It is only in very recent years that renewables have begun to be adopted and water conservation is still not consistently applied within construction or upgrading in Jordan and the project provides a platform for others to learn from and copy.

In this project, The Norwegian Refugee Council used Cash Transfer Programming as the delivery mechanism for the assistance to the landlord. In addition, as an additional feature the Norwegian Refugee Council provides the landlords with the opportunity to install solar water heaters in exchange for a reduction in rent (beyond the rent-free period) – and this option is clarified in the scope of works agreed with the landlord.

The approach taken by the Norwegian Refugee Council has included using proactive engagement with other key stakeholders e.g. local authorities and the newly established Green Building Council to inform them about the project which has strengthened the project itself and benefited the refugee communities more widely.

What is the environmental impact?

At the project design phase, an internal environmental impact assessment indicated that there were no significant risks to the environment associated with the project implementation and, therefore, no specific mitigation measures were put in place. This reflects principally the fact that the refurbishments and upgrades are not new build and therefore there is no issue of land take and its associated impacts on the environment.

The project involves the renovation of existing buildings rather than demolition and reconstruction and the Norwegian Refugee Council has incorporated renewable energy, energy efficiency and water conservation in the project design including:

  • Installation of solar water heating to households utilising renewable energy resource. The solar water heaters considerably cut down household energy bills and improve living conditions of beneficiaries;
  • Provision of energy efficient lighting which contributes further towards cutting down household energy bill;
  • The distribution of water saving kits to reduce household water consumption which, in addition to the environmental benefits, reduces the costs of water trucking and wastewater disposal faced by vulnerable households.

Overall with the emphasis on re-use of existing structures and the inclusion of renewable energy and water conservation measures the project is considered to have a positive impact on the environment when considered against the options associated with new build.

Is it financially sustainable?

Five thousand, one hundred housing units have already been converted by the project. Future refurbishments are dependent on donor funding. As of April 2016, funding is secured until August 2016. However, several proposals are under review by donors committed to supporting the project and the Norwegian Refugee Council is confident that the project will continue to be implemented in Jordan.

What is the social impact?

The high number of refugees in host communities in Jordan is putting increased pressure on the housing and labour markets. This is a key source of tension between Syrian refugees and Jordanians.

Without the project Syrian refugees would face protracted displacement with no or limited livelihood options which could result in:

  • Negative coping mechanisms adopted by vulnerable Syrian refugees e.g. prostitution, crime, exploitative labour.
  • Risk of deportation by Syrian refugees working illegally.
  • Return to Syria.
  • Involuntary returns to camp settings.

For Jordanian host communities:

  • Loss of income for construction labourers in areas of poverty in Jordan.
  • Mismatch between the demand and supply of affordable housing.

In a survey of Syrian refugees currently assisted through the project, 93% felt ‘secure’ or ‘very secure’ in their new accommodation compared to only 58% before. A third of all beneficiaries reported that they had previously lived in a basement, tent, warehouse or partially constructed house compared to their new accommodation which was either a flat or fully constructed house meeting minimum standards. Some 92% considered their new accommodation ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

The impact of the project on the Jordanian landlords and their families is longer lasting. The upgrading of the housing units directly impacts the value of the landlords’ housing asset and allows them to generate more income following the end of the project by entering the rental market.


Several challenges have been highlighted in the implementation of activities:

  • The project’s detailed assessment of construction delays helped the Norwegian Refugee Council adapt and highlighted ways to reduce such delays in the future. One of the issues identified by the landlords as causing delays in the completion of the construction was the availability of skilled labourers. In an attempt to support the landlords overcome this challenge, the programme mapped the skilled labourers in different trades and locations and shared the contact list with the landlords linking them to the labour market. This is also an example of innovation in the project.
  • Some of the refugee families didn’t accept the housing offered to them. A detailed assessment of why showed interesting results. At the time of the assessment the level of non-acceptance was 15%. Findings from the assessment included a better understanding of the refugees’ perception of the importance of, for example, the proximity of the housing to services and markets. As a result the criteria used to select properties were revised and proximity to services and markets were given a higher priority.
  • Eighty per cent of refugees in Jerash governorate and 61% in Aljoun chose to live there because they had family close by, while only 13% and 28%, respectively, chose to live there because of low rents. This highlights the significance of social networks in refugee housing choices. This has only proved to be a barrier for the project in being able to find enough properties close to people’s relatives. However, by involving the community and with the support of local authorities, the impact of more outreach focused on Jordanian landlords increased the availability of properties in most locations.
  • Overcrowding and sub-standard housing conditions in urban areas may result in increased family violence and early marriage of girls. And although this has not been a noticeable issue specifically within the project, protection measures are mainstreamed through all of the Nowegian Refugee Council’s activities with referrals made to specialist sources of support.
  • The lower costs of supporting refugees outside camps means that the demand for provision of urban shelter by humanitarian organisations is likely to rise which increases the importance of advocacy efforts with the main donors and stakeholders to ensure continued support for extremely vulnerable cases. In addition, the programme is looking at various interventions supporting the livelihoods of the refugee households, and promoting their engagement in useful income generating activities (such as in the construction sector or in home based businesses) in order to grow their independence from humanitarian assistance.

Lessons Learned

  • Integration of legal assistance and security of tenure into the housing project was vital to ensure the sustainability of the activities and provide, as far as is possible, protection from eviction.
  • Coordination with the hosting government at national and local level was instrumental in ensuring buy-in and the smooth implementation of the project, and allowed the Norwegian Refugee Council to be better placed in order to reach beneficiaries in different governorates.
  • The project design which included significant benefits for the local community in terms of conditional cash grants mitigated any likelihood of increased tension between host and refugee communities. It also increased the ability of the local communities to cope with the protracted crisis by increasing the number of housing units and also mitigating the increase in rent prices.
  • Building partnerships with local organisations helped the acceptance of the programme and empowered them with the learning and training they would need to implement similar projects in the future. It also increased the reach of the programme and allowed better access to beneficiaries in different locations.
  • The coordination efforts with other humanitarian actors at a national and local level helped with the quality of the beneficiary selection process by avoiding duplication and by standardising the methodology used by different organisations.  And the setting up of various referral mechanisms ensured that the assistance given to refugees was timely.
  • The approach of actively engaging with local governors, local authorities and community-based organisations, as well as developing legal guidance for project activities, could be even more valuable in the future if the urban shelter programme is expanded.


The Norwegian Refugee Council has rolled-out a consistent approach to monitoring and evaluation across all its Middle East country operations. The roll-out also includes a complaints, response and feedback mechanism.

For many years Norwegian Refugee Council has used standard indicators across all of its operations, first through its core activity database and now its global output reporting system. It ensures that there is maximum accountability to beneficiaries and that there are systems in place which will support the improvement of the programme during its course.

Technical monitoring of the shelter component of the programme is provided by civil engineers on the Norwegian Refugee Council staff, supporting and following up with landlords in their implementation of construction works. The engineers ensure that the construction work is undertaken to an adequate, safe standard and in a timely way. In addition to technical supervision, the Norwegian Refugee Council undertakes regular visits to the beneficiaries following up on their experiences of living in the housing and trying to mitigate any disputes.

An external evaluation of the project was completed in 2015, with recommendations that have been incorporated into the project design and processes in order to better reach the target objectives. One of the recommendations of the external evaluation was that the programme should consider a more ‘area-based’ approach to programming in addition to strengthening engagement with local stakeholders and organisations. As a result, in 2016 the Norwegian Refugee Council started the implementation of its community-based approach in programming ensuring different projects and interventions are implemented together in order to maximise the impact on beneficiaries.The impact of the project on host communities has not been looked at in depth, beyond the economic impact.


The Integrated Urban Shelter Project was selected and presented as good practice programming during the Mediterranean Municipalities at the Forefront of the Refugee Crisis: Peer-to-Peer Learning Workshop for Communities Hosting Refugees organised by the World Bank and Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) in Amman in 2016 and has received considerable attention in the media within and beyond Jordan including:


The Norwegian Refugee Council is keen to continue scaling up the project within Jordan – the only barrier is funding. The approach could be a replicable model in other emergency settings and bridge the gap between humanitarian and development approaches in the shelter sector. The project in Jordan was developed from a similar project implemented by the same organisation in Lebanon, where other organisations involved in shelter are now replicating the intervention.

In Jordan, the Norwegian Refugee Council is the only organisation involved in implementing this project. However, it is included as a priority shelter intervention in the Jordan Response Plan for the Syria Crisis and the Shelter Working Group has developed detailed technical guidance on how to implement the project. Transferring the project into similar settings and repeating success is very much dependent on communicating the process. The Norwegian Refugee Council is actively engaged outside Jordan with various working groups such as the Shelter Cluster, where this approach is being discussed.